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Why building an AI chatbot that passed as human convinced me to put my whole life on the internet

In my free time, I like to build stuff and put it on the internet. Two months ago, I built an AI comment generating chatbot and deployed it on reddit. The chatbot was designed to leave pertinent, realistic replies to other redditors' comments. I figured it would say a bunch of weird stuff and then get flagged and blocked.

To my surprise, the chatbot was practically perfect at writing coherent English sentences. And it was also pretty good at understanding the context of a reddit comment and generating replies that were highly relevant. But when I looked at the comments it was sending, I was still a little bit disappointed. The responses just seemed a little dumb. Like this one for example

As it turns out, this wasn't a problem. People still responded to the comments as if they were coming from a real person. In almost all the cases, it looked like the chatbot was just a slightly confused person trying to contribute to the conversation. So the original poster would normally respond by trying to elaborate on their original thought or ask clarifying questions to try to understand what the bot meant.

Later that day, as I started looking at other replies on reddit and twitter, I suddenly began to notice just how many replies are also a little incoherent. Top comments are normally smart and pointed, but quantitatively, the majority are pretty nonsensical.

Then it dawned on me. Most responses on social media sound like they are coming from a slightly confused person.

And even scarier than that. My uninformed robot already looked indistinguishable from the uninformed people online.

How I've Responded

At first, I thought this was a sure sign that I should continue to shun social media. But as I thought about it more, I realized that I wanted do my part in correcting this problem. And I figured that my experience might have some value in the public discourse on this topic.

So I ruminated for a bit on how in the near future, any comment on the internet could be coming from a similar bot. As many have pointed out, this makes it quite easy to wage a massive disinformation campaign. Furthermore, being bot generated isn't the worst part. If a non-thinking entity could make points that make as much sense as the average online comment, then I feel that our online discourse is very much in need of elevation.

I wanted to do my part to raise the level of discourse on the internet and to protect against a world of bot generated misinformation online. To do that, I want to only post thoughtful, topically relevant information. And I want to make sure that anyone who sees anything I post on the internet has an easy way to verify that I am a real person who stands behind their opinions.

I have decided to try to connect my personal identity to all of the things that I say on the internet. These are my bona fides to anyone who wants to know if I am genuine. This also will help me to ensure that I deeply consider what I write online so as not to contribute to the "noisiness."

Which brings me to this post. This blog is the start of my attempt at radical transparency about my life. I'm using this spot to collect everything about who I am so that you, fine reader, can know that what I say is coming from a real person. As I do this, I'm also changing my approach to writing in order to more closely display my real values and beliefs in everything that I do.

I hope that I've articulated the idea well enough for others to understand where I'm coming from. I also hope that anyone who reads this will consider trying out a similar approach for themselves.

Note: I'm also starting this immediately without taking too much time to try to work through all the details. I'm hoping that I can preemptively start recording my identity before it becomes too easy to fake a whole online persona in a similar way. Plus recording this process helps others to learn that I am a person constructing and working through my beliefs in real-time, just like everyone else.


Comments

  1. hey will! very very interesting. you may be interested in https://indieweb.org too, both the principles and the mechanical parts: posting many different kinds of things on your web site, beyond just blog posts, and also interacting with other people on their own sites and on social media.

    I'm pretty familiar with it, happy to help if you want any tips. hope you two are feeling better btw. take care of yourselves!

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    1. hi ryan! snarfed.org is definitely a big inspiration for this project. I'm hoping to migrate things over to indieweb, but I couldn't figure out how to do it as blogger posts or using github pages. But I will figure that out next.

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